A Response to Gideon Levy From a Swede Who Doesn't Hate Israel

Hatred is one of the most serious threats to peace, and is best fought by bringing nuance into the pictures we paint of one another.

In the aftermath of the Davis Cup event hosted in the Swedish town of Malmo, which on March 7 culminated in an anti-Israeli rally with traits of anti-Semitism and spurts of violence, there were two seemingly opposite comments published in English-language Israeli newspapers.

The first piece, by Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman in the Jerusalem Post, was largely based on false premises and easily dismissed. The second article by Gideon Levy for Haaretz was a letter of sympathy with my compatriots, which is more offensive than Cooper and Brackman's criticism.

Levy portrays the Swede in the image of his own passions. It is difficult to understand why he is not offended by others' vilifying generalizations about his country, his compatriots and, by association, about Jews worldwide.

Praising us for our anti-Israel sentiments Levy writes that some populations, notably Swedish and Egyptian, are victims of pro-Israeli governments. This is reminiscent of a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations General Assembly, where he suggested that we are innocent victims of Zionism. Levy continues in the same note by alluding to the classic anti-Semitic myth of Jewish/Zionist control of the media.

He also speaks about unconditional support for Israel from foreign governments. This raises the question of whether Levy has read any foreign papers or looked on the Internet, for I doubt that any nation is at present as vilified as Israel. There is of course much legitimate criticism that can be levelled at Israel, but the terms must be equal to those applied to others.

Some of what passes for criticism of Israel is of a different nature, and it seems that Israel has been designated the role of "the Jew" in anti-Semitic mythology. The image of Israel as deceitful and evil reflects on the Jewish people, and goes toward explaining the events in Malmo. It also partly explains the sentiments in many other countries, such as the U.K., for the background to the Malmo riots is far from unique to Sweden.

The message from Malmo that reached the world is that the tennis matches were played behind closed doors due to security concerns or political decisions motivated by a large Arab-Muslim minority. It is true that a few Islamists, along with other extremists, have expressed anti-Semitism. But another fact is that immigrants, especially those with Arab or Muslim origins, are also experiencing racism. Innocent young men are looked upon as criminals simply because they are Arab or of dark hair. This too is a cause for concern.

However, the politicians who have uttered the most anti-Israel statements speak from a tradition present long before any significant Muslim immigration to Europe. This tradition is mainly upheld by the center-left-environmentalist opposition to the center-right government. Part of its ideological basis is the noble cause of defending those in need. Like Levy, these politicians claim to be speaking for peace. In Malmo, we can see that this had the opposite effect.

The Social Democrat mayor of Malmo, Ilmar Reepalu, bestowed upon Israel the epithet of "child murderer." Two representatives of other parties from the opposition coalition addressed the Malmo demonstrators. One of them, Per Gahrton, a former member of the European Parliament and current member of the faction which determines the opposition's foreign and security policies, claimed that Israel holds the world record in war crimes. He has also labeled Israel a "military dictatorship," and written that Swedish editors are controlled by the Israel lobby.

But the picture is not so clear-cut. Into the mix is the fact that some of the criticism against anti-Semitic tendencies comes from within the left and that the ultra-nationalist party has used pro-Israeli statements as an instrument to forward their anti-immigrant populism.

Blackened images of Israel that could reasonably be assumed to have incited hatred against Jews are thus to some extent being disseminated within mainstream society, not just thanks to these politicians, but also through biased news reporting and other channels. This is a much more severe problem than blatant and deliberate anti-Semitism within defined extremist groups.

Racist tendencies are not unique to Sweden in these times of economic recession, nor is the struggle against them. In February, some 120 parliamentarians saw the urgency in discussing how to combat the anti-Semitism that seems to have risen to an unprecedented level since WWII. The London Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism was attended by, among others, the foreign secretaries of the U.K. and Italy. Hence, Gideon Levy's statement "Not to worry: Everything is just dandy" is hardly consistent with reality. Luckily, there are Europeans struggling for his and others' human rights.

On the subject of human rights, Levy uses his comments on Swedes to defend the upcoming Durban II conference on racism. Country after country in the free world is leaving or objecting to the conference. They are doing so over the tone at the preparatory meetings, as well as the wording in drafts of the final declaration. Very recently the EU issued a united boycott warning.

Durban II is supposed to be a conference in defense of human rights against racism. It seems to have become a conference in defense of racism against human rights. Language is being perverted into the Newspeak of George Orwell's novel 1984, where truth came to mean untruth. In 2009, anti-racism means racism, human rights is the right of ideologies to silence the freedom of speech, striving for peace means incitement to violence. This not only attacks Israel or Jews, but also distorts those civil liberties and human rights that generations of Europeans fought hard for, and which are the foundation of our societies.

I can imagine that Israelis who have read the two opposing pieces on Malmo may have a black picture of the Swedes. I know that there are Europeans who, whether they have reflected upon it or not, have a dark image of Israelis and Jews. The difference is that the depiction of Jews has been revived over and over again. I believe that one of the most serious threats to peace within and between countries lies in the hatred spurred by such simple and unimaginative imagery. This threat is best fought by using our imagination to bring color and nuance into the pictures we paint of one another.

Anna Ekstrom is a Swedish freelance writer